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FOOD & DRINK

Ten Places to Eat and Drink Around Port Stephens on Your Next Romantic Getaway

Treat your special someone to hearty brunches, local wine and some of the best seafood on the east coast.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 15, 2020
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Ten Places to Eat and Drink Around Port Stephens on Your Next Romantic Getaway

Treat your special someone to hearty brunches, local wine and some of the best seafood on the east coast.
By Melanie Colwell and Hudson Brown
July 15, 2020
  shares

TEN PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK AROUND PORT STEPHENS ON YOUR NEXT ROMANTIC GETAWAY

in partnership with

Treat your special someone to hearty brunches, local wine and some of the best seafood on the east coast.

Whether it's a low-key fish 'n' chip picnic on the beach or splurging on a decadent platter for your anniversary, there's something about seafood that's synonymous with romance (after all, everyone knows the claims about oysters being an aphrodisiac). At just 2.5-hours north of Sydney, perched on the edge of a huge protected marine park, Port Stephens is famed for its abundance of fresh seafood.

The local cafes, restaurants and bars take full advantage of their proximity to the freshest catches, so when you're looking to treat your special someone to a romantic escape from the city, consider Port Stephens.With the Hunter Valley region just nearby, you'll also have your pick of quality drops to pair your seafood feast with as you make eyes at each other across the table. Here are some of the must-visit restaurants, cafes and bars on your weekend away. Unattached? These spots are just as suitable for a group getaway or some much-needed quality time with your bestie.

While regional holidays within NSW are now allowed, some of the places mentioned below may be operating differently due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.

  • 10
    The Little Nel

    Situated underneath Hotel Nelson, The Little Nel is a favourite of locals, drawn in by the excellent coffee (by Pablo & Rusty) and extensive breakfast and lunch menus that rely on seasonal produce. While the usual brekkie suspects are ever-present — smashed avo, toasted muesli and bacon and egg roll — the menu, designed by Mathew Key and Dan James, features some experimental dishes. The results across both are, visually and in flavour, damn impressive. Take, for example, the sambal chilli scrambled eggs, served with coconut yoghurt, green papaya and crushed cashews. Or the Medowie garlic mushrooms with whipped feta, chimichurri and Morpeth red kale. Whatever lands on your table will be fresh, colourful and leave you ready to take on a day of sightseeing (or relaxing).

    To pair with your feed are freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, milkshakes and the aforementioned coffee. Oh, and it has both nitro coffee and kombucha on tap, too.

    Image: Destination NSW

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  • 9

    Waterfront dining venues aren’t hard to come by in Port Stephens, but The Poyer’s takes this notion one step further by jutting out right over the water. This family owned business, with chef Ludovic Poyer at the helm, is a hidden gem in the sleepy town of Lemon Tree Passage. While it’s open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, we suggest heading there for brekkie or a leisurely long lunch (from Wednesday to Sunday) to take full advantage of the view across the bay.

    The kitchen utilises local produce and presents it with a European flair — think roasted quail with pain d’épice (a French-style spiced bread), snail risotto with red wine butter and duck confit. There’s also a share-style tapas menu, though it’s currently not available due to COVID-19 restrictions.

    After lunch, check out the nearby Koala Reserve, which marks the start of a boardwalk to Nyrang Park through lush mangrove vegetation.

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  • 8

    Almost every coastal town of a certain size has a pub overlooking the beach. But they’re not all like Shoal Bay Country Club. A $6 million refurb was unveiled in early 2018, revealing a light and airy venue that takes full advantage of its epic vantage point of the bay and has an unmistakable Mediterranean feel — a predominantly white and wood palette with pops of aqua blue and bright yellow. The venue opens bright and early at 6.30am with breakfast served in the downstairs cafe, Mermaids.

    Then, from 11.30am, the kitchen and patio swing open their doors for lunch and dinner with an extensive menu of pub classics, plus epic Napoli-style woodfired pizzas. Expect live music starting from 6.30pm in the courtyard on Friday and Saturday nights before DJs take over to keep the fun going into the wee hours. On Sundays, there’s live music in the courtyard all afternoon, plus crab races, poker and $5 drinks from 7pm.

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  • 7
    Little Beach Boathouse

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’ll find Little Beach Boathouse perched right on the edge of Nelson Bay’s Little Beach. Upstairs, the main restaurant offers coastal dining at its best — fresh seafood and a winning view of the shimmering bay.

    Lunch is a fairly straightforward affair — one main and sourdough for $40 per person. But you’re given the option to add in starters and dessert if you want to linger a little longer admiring the view (you will). Prawn cocktails, Port Stephens rock oysters with native pepperberry mignonette or Hervey Bay scallops with cauliflower puree are among your upgrade options. Come dinnertime, you can opt for a two- or three-course set menu ($55 or $65 respectively). Predictably, it’s mostly seafood on offer, think squid ink spaghetti, miso glazed salmon and market fish, but there are meat and vegetarian options, too.

    Image: Destination NSW

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  • 6

    It just makes so much sense: Rick Stein, the celebrity chef who made a name for himself — first in the UK and then in Australia — by making seafood his ingredient of choice opening a restaurant in Port Stephens, home to some of the best seafood on the east coast. Following the success of the first Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook, this outpost opened in conjunction with Bannisters Port Stephens in 2018. Stein, with his wife Sarah, engaged interior designer Romy Alwill to present a breezy interior, splashed with terracotta, timber and Japanese watercolours.

    Alongside Head Chef Mitchell Turner, Stein has designed a menu that celebrates the region — and its excellent produce. That starts with a selection of seafood straight from the sea — think oysters on ice (or served with spicy sausage) and sashimi of Nelson Bay yellowfin tuna, Eden kingfish and Tasmanian salmon — alongside a creamy black cuttlefish risotto. For mains, you can enjoy baked whole snapper, barbecued tuna steak, fish curry or, if you’re happy to get your hands dirty, blue swimmer crab served Singapore-style with garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander. It’s seafood dining as its absolute finest.

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  • 5

    The Stockton Sand Dunes are a must-visit spot in Port Stephens — and the best way to top off a few hours of sandboarding, quad biking or 4WDing around the monstrous sand mountains is an ice cold, locally brewed craft beer. Set just behind the dunes at Port Stephens Winery is local independent brewery Murray’s, famed for its non-traditional beers.

    There are always ten beers on tap to choose from, plus a selection of bottled specials. Start with something from the core range, like the popular Angry Man Pale Ale or the bold Fred IPA, before venturing on to one of the limited-edition drops. Past specials have included a pumpkin ale, packed with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, the Chocolate Donut, with heavy toffee and cocoa flavours, and the Pucker Up sour ale, a tart but sweet grapefruit and passionfruit number. Pair your choice with a platter of smoky barbecued meats from the onsite restaurant and a game of bocce on the lawn. And don’t worry about getting home — the brewery runs a shuttle bus to and from town on weekends for a fiver, which includes a complimentary brewery tour.

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  • 4
    Holberts Oyster Farm

    The claims about oysters being aphrodisiacs may be largely folklore, but don’t let that stop you and your partner from slurping them down by the dozen when visiting Port Stephens’ premier oyster farm. The Holbert family has been in the bivalve business for five generations and is now one of the biggest producers of oysters in NSW.

    You’ll find the quite humble store on the shores of Cromarty Bay, where folks share their expertise in all things molluscs and sell freshly shucked Port Stephens rock oysters, Pacific oysters, prawns and sauces. Order a selection, then nab one of the tables outside overlooking the bay. The store sells wine and beer to enjoy with your snacks, but you’re also welcome to BYO vino.

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  • 3

    Rick Stein at Bannisters may take a lot of the glory when it comes to dining options at Bannisters Port Stephens, but new addition Cheeky Dog deserves some attention, too. The casual bar and eatery was unveiled in December 2019. Designed by architect Tony Freeman and design company MCM House, Cheeky Dog leans into its coastal location with a palette of natural timbers, rattan, recycled materials and soft furnishings and, thanks to its open-plan design, it has plenty of natural light and an exposed ceiling.

    The venue has bar snacks, like chicken wings and salt and pepper squid, available from 2pm and dinner service starts as early as 3.30pm. The menu is succinct — a selection of antipasto, a handful of classic pub-style mains and stonebaked pizzas — but it’s all done well. Plus, if you and your partner have a third wheel in the form of your pet in tow, you’ll be pleased to know that the bar is dog-friendly (as is the hotel itself, should you wish to stay there).

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  • 2

    If you’ve worked up an appetite wandering around the small boutiques, vintage stores and other shops in Nelson Bay’s town centre, make tracks to Seabreeze Hotel. Located at the marina end of Stockton Street, the pub makes for a good spot to refuel. The venue has a contemporary look and feel across its various spaces — it boasts a dining area, public bar and a patio. It also has 18 rooms that sleep between 2–4 people, and a bottle shop if you want to grab something to go.

    Order a cocktail jug to share — we have our eye on the pineapple rosé sangria — or a vino from the two-page wine menu (with nothing over $100 a bottle), before diving into the food menu. If you’re just a little peckish, pick some starters to share, like karaage chicken bao, loaded fries and garlic pizzetta. Or, if you’re really hungry, order the beef brisket ragu linguine or a wagyu rump with creamy mash. Just be sure to leave room for the Golden Gaytime-inspired dessert with honeycomb parfait, Kingston biscuit crumb, chocolate ganache and roasted peanuts.

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  • 1
    The Wild Herring

    The Wild Herring is The Anchorage‘s flagship restaurant, situated overlooking the resort’s pool with views of the marina and ocean beyond. Open for dinner service from Thursday to Saturday, the restaurant is the sophisticated, fine dining option that a romantic weekend away no doubt calls for.

    Executive Chef Michael Jenkins’ menu gives diners the option of two courses for $68 or three for $86, plus the choice to add in matching wines, too. By this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this menu also heavily features the region’s seafood, which you can find celebrated in starters like spanner crab tortellini with crab bisque and oysters poached with miso and mains like Moreton Bay Bug risotto. Finish your meal on a decadent high with red wine poached pear with olive oil sponge or dark chocolate cremeux with cherry confit. Then, after dinner, pop over to Moby’s Bar, get cosy in one of the leather armchairs and end your evening by sampling some of the world’s finest whiskies.

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Top image: Shoal Bay Country Club

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